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Disorienting Ideas: On the History, Philosophy, and Politics of Equality and Distributive Justice in China



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Hoerning, Johannes 


Confronting questions of equality and distributive justice remains an important task and not only for theorists in the liberal democratic tradition. This dissertation moves beyond the familiar liberal democratic terrain by embedding questions of equality and distributive justice in the Chinese context and engaging with a complex field of historical developments, empirical research, and philosophical reflection. Its five chapters cover a period of profound economic and ideological transition from equality’s first violent appearance in the mid-nineteenth century, through its appropriation and abuse during China’s turbulent twentieth century, to novel questions regarding fairness and redistribution that have accompanied four decades of reform. The first half of this study considers China’s new inequality and charts the intellectual terrain on which egalitarian and anti-egalitarian thinkers have defended their respective positions on China’s best way forward. It critically evaluates their varying accounts while seeking to combine their equally varying insights. The second part discusses the unresolved identity of the Chinese state, haunted by conflicting governing rationalities, and traces a genealogy of equality and distributive justice generally overlooked by China experts outside and even inside China. Taken together, the five chapters are designed to throw comprehensive light on the evolving identity and the disorienting nature of equality and distributive justice in the Chinese context, locating these modern ideological and social-psychological phenomena in an intricate set of conflicting proposals for China motivated by aspirations to democracy, by hopes for the revival of socialist legacies, or by the quest for new hierarchies.





Brooke, Christopher
Kelly, Duncan


China, Distributive Justice, Equality, Genealogy, Inequality


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge